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April 21, 2013

YOUR GREEN VALLEY: Intern working to improve city's sustainability

TERRE HAUTE — In 2012 officials with the Institute of Community Sustainability at Indiana State University arranged for a meeting with Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett. The meeting resulted in the placement of an unpaid sustainability intern in the Mayor’s office.

“The mayor was very excited and receptive in starting the conversation about sustainability at city hall,” ISU intern Steven Flowers said.

Already Bennett touts changing all of the stop lights to LEDs (light emitting diodes). LEDs take far less power to operate than standard lights.

Flowers is working on going from the few city employees who recycle individually in their office to expanding it to the nine fire stations and every building on the government campus. Having enough correct bins for each office is preventing this goal from being accomplished. Recently, Flowers applied for a bin grant through Keep America Beautiful and hopes, if awarded, it will supply the city with enough bins to get them off to a good start.  

Flowers started in his position in January and will conclude in May. His first accomplishment has been the organization of the first Mayor’s Bicycle Ride for Earth Day, which took place April 17. The bicycle ride kicked off the Earth Day festivities at ISU. There, Mayor Bennett fielded questions and opinions about the “bikeability” of Terre Haute from bicyclists.

Flowers says these types of events help encourage alternative transportation and healthier lifestyles.

“Steven is going to try and set up a regular bike ride once a month,” Bennett said. “It will be a good way for everyone to get outside talking and to enjoy the wonderful trails Terre Haute has to offer at the same time.”

Flowers hopes that his greatest accomplishment while interning in the mayor’s office will be to complete a greenhouse gas inventory of Terre Haute. He will look at what greenhouse gases the city is producing and create a baseline from that information. Once a baseline is created, he would like for a roundtable discussion to take place in order to discuss how we can reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and create a climate action plan for the city’s operations. As things progress, Bennett would eventually like to see a sustainability plan put in place.

“We need to make sure we are doing things as efficiently as we can to save the taxpayers’ money, and we need to be out front doing some leading-edge things in the realm of sustainability,” Bennett said.

Many larger cities across the U.S. have a sustainability coordinator on staff. Bennett said it is unlikely the city would create such a position as its budget continues to get cut. Eventually, he thinks it will become a dual-duty role of someone already on staff.

“Sustainability is something we all know about, but we don’t always think about it at the right time,” Flowers said. “It is just putting into perspective the things we are already doing. For example, if we are putting in a road, why not see if there is a way we can make it a complete street. It is really important to add that perspective in the things we are already doing.”

Mayor Bennett said he would like to have the consistency with working on sustainability topics and issues in the future. He hopes to partner with ISU or another local university next semester to carry the torch Flowers will leave burning.

Jane Santucci is an environmental freelance writer for the Tribune-Star. Santucci is a proud volunteer with TREES Inc. and Our Green Valley. She also sits on the Wabash Valley Goodwill Industries Board of Directors. Share your environmental stories and tips with her at JaneSantucci@yourgreenvalley.com.

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